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Q. How can I get the fastest performance from my PC hard drive?

I have recently bought a new PC that I intend to use solely for music production. Having read Martin Walker's article on the Millennium Music PC, I opted to buy two hard drives and have the fastest one dedicated to storing music files, installing Windows and all my applications on the slower drive.

I have also read several times that the best HD performance is achieved from files residing on the outside cylinders of the disk. Following this line of logic, I have created a primary 500Mb partition on the 7200rpm drive.

By dragging a folder containing all the files associated with the song I am currently working on into this partition, I believe I will be working with files that are in the optimum location. I would expect a further benefit to come from the fact that these files will not be fragmented, as they are written to a blank drive every time.

I have a couple of concerns, however. The first is that I have been given conflicting advice by different people about the physical location of the primary partition on the disk. The second is that I have not heard this idea suggested anywhere else, and I have to wonder if I am overlooking anything. I would be grateful for any advice you can give me.

Tarewai Wesley

Martin Walker replies: Personally, I feel that you've taken the right decision to have two drives — one for Windows and applications, and the other solely for audio and other data — since this makes general optimisation and defragmentation so much easier.

The fastest area of any hard drive is always on the outside, simply because the read/write tracks are arranged in concentric circles. Since the outer ones are longer they contain more sectors, and at a fixed spin speed more sectors can be read in a single revolution. Many drives spin at 5400rpm, some at a better 7200rpm, and there are now ones that run at 10,000 and even 12,000rpm. Depending on the design of the drive, the outermost track may be up to twice as fast as the innermost one.

Your idea of a 500Mb outer partition is sound, and will certainly help you get the best performance. It will also help create a good backup regime, as you move files elsewhere at the end of each project. However, 500Mb is a fairly small proportion of most modern hard drives, so I doubt that you'll actually get significantly faster performance than from the outer part of the remainder of the drive. It will depend on the individual drive, but even on an old 2.5Gb one of mine an outer 500Mb partition was only three percent faster. However, the beauty of your scheme is that as the remainder of the drive fills up, you still maintain the fastest speed for your latest project.

If you have several identical partitions spread across multiple drives, Windows will allocate the first C: drive letter to the first primary partition it finds on the first system hard disk, and then follow on to the first primary partition of successive drives. Logical partitions are next allocated drive letters in the same manner. In your setup, the system drive will become C:, the outer partition of your data drive D:, and the larger inner one E:. If you're still unsure, you can simply run the Dskbench utility to check that the sustained transfer rate of your 500Mb D: drive is in fact faster then the E: one.

The only other advice I would offer is to make sure that any audio application with Undo facilities using a Temp file should have this set up on your C: drive. If you place it on the D: partition, or — even worse — the E: partition, every time you edit a long audio file your read/write heads will be thrashing about unnecessarily between two places on a single drive. This can slow down editing by a factor of two in extreme cases.